Saturday, July 7, 2018

The Assassinations: A Novel of 1984

Recently, in Indian literature in English, the riots of 1984 in which the Sikh community was targeted, found its conspicuous expressions. A set of books namely, The Assassinations: A Novel of 1984 by Vikram Kapur, 1984: India’s Guilty Secret by Pav Singh, Amritsar: Mrs Gandhi's Last Battle by Mark Tully, Operation Blue Star: The True Story by K. S. Brar, The Punjab Story by Amarjit Kaur et al., When a Tree Shook Delhi by Manoj Mitta, I Accuse... :The Anti-Sikh Violence of 1984 by Jarnail Singh, and 1984: The Anti-Sikh Riots and After by Sanjay Suri venture to foreground the massacre of Sikhs, the pain of one’s own home territory becoming hostile, the transformation of trust into bigotry, and the political correctness of all that which caused these riots. These books become the shining mirror held against the memory of the fratricides. One may see every shade of the events that took place before and soon after Mrs Indira Gandhi’s death. 

Vikram Kapur’s book, The Assassinations is a novel. It’s short in its length. Clothed in a crimson cover, the book invites readers to face a haunting series of unsettling events. Deepa and Prem are about to cross the most important threshold of their life. They start dreaming and planning their beautiful life. Their marriage is nearing. Deepa’s mother, Savitri is in frenzy. She wants everything to be perfect on the wedding day of her daughter. But life has something else to offer them. Through the story of two families, the novel unravels the harrowing experiences of the Sikh massacres that occurred in 1984, after the murder of the prime minister, Ms Indira Gandhi. 

The news of the death of Indira Gandhi, the prime minister shakes the world they inhabit. The cosy lives of the characters we meet are shattered without prior notice. The novel has four parts: “Delhi, 31st October 1984”, “Before”, “After”, and “Delhi 2004”.

Amarjeet and Kishneet, parents of Prem are also excited about their son’s marriage with a Hindu girl, Deepa. Being a Sikh family has not affected them in any way in making that decision. However, when the darkness of bigotry changes the society they inhabit, even their family has to make decisions they never thought they had to make.

On the day of the assassination of the prime minister, (India’s first female prime minister), Prem visits one of his Muslim friends who is new to the city of Delhi. While Prem is at the house of Imran, the news of the assassination of the prime minister broke. The act was committed by one of her bodyguards who happened to be a Sikh. This was in retaliation of her decision to raid the Golden Temple of Amritsar. Prem could see chaos brooding in the neighbourhood. As he was about to leave, his car was stopped by some goons. He was dragged out of his car and beaten up. This episode is at the centre of the novel and serves the purpose of heightening the tension in the story. 

The death of Indira Gandhi, the prime minister, was a historic event. This event was connected to a series of events that played out earlier in the history of this nation. The raid of the Golden Temple was an attempt to subdue the Sikh-terrorists who were using the religious place, the holy shrine of the Sikhs, as their ground of operation. However, the operation had wounded the spiritual sensibilities of the Sikh community. The feelings of intolerance had developed like a storm gathering.

Prof. Vikram Kapur
Both the older male characters in the novel, Amarjeet, Prem’s father and Jaswant, Deepa’s father had undergone the harrowing experiences of India’s partition. For them, the riots seemed to eclipse the present and foreground the past all over again. Here is a strand of thought that passed through Amarjeet’s mind: “Now, in the blink of an eye, he had been flung back thirty-seven years, once again contemplating flight, as the city that had given him refuge shrieked for his blood” (129). Thirty-seven years before, Amarjeet had reached Delhi as a refugee from of partition. From there he had worked his way up the ladder in the society to become a respectable doctor. However, his elite status in the society hadn’t been able to save his son, Prem from being beaten up near Irfan’s house.

The stream of consciousness technique is used in many areas to narrate the feelings and thought processes of characters with a great impact. The storytelling of Vikram Kapur is simple, direct in style, and lucid in language. Vikram Kapur has authored two novels previously namely, Time is a Fire and The Wages of Life. He works as an associate professor at Shiv Nadar University.

The Assassinations stands as a novel that clears the mist over one of the darkest episodes of Indian politics. There is no question that the novel will haunt us for days and months after reading it, with its thought-provoking narrative style and compelling events of human transformation.  Published by Speaking Tiger Publishing, this book is priced in MRP INR 299. The design of the book is ideal for comfortable reading experience. The size of the book and its weight stands out in support. The font size is large and therefore The Assassinations could be read while on train or bus, and/or in bus stations or railway stations as well as in your libraries.

The questions raised by this book will surely raise your sensibilities about inter-religious interactions in India. The moral rights of the author are asserted in the copyright page. Therefore, any attempt to make a film or a screenplay out of this book will have to go through the author’s consent in all matters regarding creative freedom of the other party. In other words, no tampering of the content will be allowed, once the moral right of the author is asserted. Indeed, this novel requires such careful handling of subject matter. The tone of the story as well as its focus is fine-tuned to regulate the expressions of the lessons we learned as a nation from the bad episode of our religious bigotry. Vikram Kapur is an author one must watch for. He is surely the torch bearer of Indian fiction in English, enlightening the path further down the road shown to us by the likes of Ruskin Bond, R K Narayan, and Salman Rushdie.    

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